The results of our Expats In Mexico Survey 2020 on personal safety tell a tale much different from the global media portrayal of a country wracked by daily violence. In our study, three-out-of-four expats feel safe living in Mexico.
The objective of the study was to find out how the 1.2 million expats currently living in Mexico feel about their own personal safety. Conducted in January and February of this year, the online survey was completed by 431 expats.
Just over 75 percent of those surveyed say they strongly agree or agree that they feel safe living in Mexico. Nearly 13 percent disagree or strongly disagree, and the remaining respondents neither agreed nor disagreed.
We asked expats if they have ever been a victim of crime in Mexico. Nearly 63 percent said no, but 37 percent had been a victim of some crime while living in the country. By far, robbery was mentioned most often. About four-out-of-10 say they had been robbed. Fraud was a distant second with just over 6 percent saying they had been duped by someone. Assault, was the third most mentioned crime against expats, followed by vehicle theft, kidnapping and rape. Over 40 percent, though, specified other types of crime against them.
ATM machine locations were considered the areas within cities in Mexico considered most unsafe by expats. About 27 percent say using those locations can be unsafe, so be watchful. City streets were a close second with 24 percent saying they were the most unsafe. Expats also worry somewhat about their safety at home. Just over 8 percent consider themselves unsafe at home, followed by public transit and pubic garages. Nearly a third specified other locations.
One of our key questions was “Which public agency do you think does the best job of keeping you safe?” We wanted to see how Mexico’s newly-created national guard stacked up against other law enforcement agencies. The basic idea behind the eventual force of 60,000 national guardsmen is to establish an alternative to the military in the fight against organized crime in Mexico and to improve citizen security.
Perhaps because it is still a fledgling organization that is still recruiting and training, the national guard ranks just 5th in the eyes of expats as the public agency they think does the best job of keeping them safe. The two top law enforcement agencies are municipal police (22 percent), followed by federal police (21 percent). The navy (12 percent), state police (10 percent), the aforementioned national guard (9 percent) and the army (6 percent) round out the public agencies expats believe are doing the best job of keeping them safe.
Most of the major expat centers around Mexico weighed in on this survey. Lake Chapala, one of the largest expat communities in the country, represents just over 23 percent of all responses, followed by San Miguel de Allende (8 percent), Puerto Vallarta (7 percent), Mexico City (4 percent) and Mérida (3 percent). The balance of the responses was widely dispersed and included expats from every corner of Mexico, from large city to village, from north to south and east to west. The interesting finding here is how many expats live far away from the large expat centers.
We also asked, “Do you believe your city is safer than most Mexican cities?” Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of expats say their city is safer than other cities in Mexico. Personal safety perceptions generally reflect experiences, environment and external influences, such as media coverage. We wanted, however, to scratch below the surface on this question, so we asked a follow-up question: “If you answered yes, why do you believe your city is safer than most Mexican cities.” The answers fell into four main buckets: size of community, tourist versus non-tourist cities, cities with large expat populations and the absence of cartel activity
Here are a few verbatims that amplify this question:
“For the time being, our town is quite small and not in any particular crosshairs. That said, some expats who own homes here have had burglaries and such, but in general I don’t fear walking about at night or anything like that.”
“Puerto Vallarta is a tourist town. Visitor’s safety is the best way to insure continued high tourism.”
“There is a large expat population and we get a lot of attention and consideration from law enforcement.”
“Ajijic and the surrounding area really has very little crime. And fortunately, there is very little cartel activity in this area.”
This final comment sums up the way many expats feel about their personal safety in Mexico: “I believe my current Mexican city to be as safe a city as I have lived in, in my adult life, including the U.S. I have lived in roughly eight cities in Mexico for at least two months up to three years during the last 40 years, and, taking into account changes in the country during that time and my age changing, I have adjusted to the current conditions in each of those places and have never felt in danger in any of them. My current city is very controversial right now because of the difference between perceived and real danger, but I feel it one of the safest cities I have ever lived in.”
Personal safety is a major issue in Mexico, that is undeniable. But how it affects expat day-to-day life is the focus of this study. For context, though, we also looked at a few recent global studies on personal safety in Mexico to see what they found.
Gallup, a leading global research firm, conducts an annual Global Law and Order study in 142 countries. Gallup’s 2019 research shows Mexico ranking 134th out of 142 countries on their law and order index. Gallup points out that the entire Latin America and Caribbean region was least likely to feel secure. The U.S. ranks 44th in the study and Canada 24th.
Further proof of Mexico’s personal safety issues comes from data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organization with 40 members, including Mexico.
The OECD’s Better Life Index measures a wide range of topics, including personal security. Mexico has the lowest rating of all OECD member countries in the categories of “feeling safe walking alone at night” and homicide rate. Mexico’s 18.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants is the highest in the OECD, which averages just 3.7 homicides across all countries.
Mexico can still be a dangerous place, but it depends very much upon where you live and where you travel. As we noted in our article “The Truth About Personal Safety in Mexico,” crime in this country follows a regional pattern, with border cities and cities and states with high cartel activity most vulnerable to violence.
Three-fourths of the expats in Mexico say they feel safe living in Mexico. That is the truth, but the reality is you should, like in any other country, also be aware of where not to live or travel. The U.S. Department of State is a good personal safety information source and frequently updates its travel warnings and safety information.
Personal security data from global research firms, the Mexican government and the U.S. Department of State cannot be ignored but it can be put in context. Expats who live in Mexico have a somewhat different reality. They seem to understand best that country-wide data cannot be equally applied to all regions or localities of the country. It cannot in the United States, and it certainly cannot in Mexico.